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Keyshia Cole: Calling All Hearts (Geffen) 

For being such a meta-celebrity—once the star of BET's reality show The Way It Is—Keyshia Cole's albums aren't at all postmodernist. So though she might be an interesting case study for an academic thesis (say, using Lyotard as a lens?) on the narrative of celebrity and self-awareness in art, she's a purveyor of meat-and-potatoes R&B: slow-jam devotionals and steady yet non-threatening beats.

That being said, what Calling All Hearts lacks in imagination, it makes up for in getting the signifiers of classic R&B exactly right. "Take Me Away" is a perfectly airy summer-love jam, never straying from the simplicity of its "I love my baby" intro. "I'm-a keep it real until I D.I.E.," Cole sings, amidst flute-y trills. Even when she's calling out all the "hatin'-ass broads" who she's determined to ignore, there's a palpable gauziness to her vocals. Here, she's a fairy-princess; on earlier records, she was angstier. Smartly, she recruits Nicki Minaj—better here, like on all her guest spots, than on her disappointing debut album—to give the track some edge.

Cole's disarming suppleness is inviting, even if she's so pillow-soft throughout that one may begin to feel drowsy. But then there are tracks like "What You Do to Me," a peppery neo-soul ballad that has all of the flavor that some of the other songs need—like her tepid duet with Tank, "Tired of Doing Me," which doesn't even come close to making good on its hilariously filthy title.

More by Sean Bottai

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